Balancing the boardroom and the brood
Finding the perfect work-life balance is one of the trickiest parts of parenting, particularly for women. Here's parenting expert Sue Atkins with some advice
The hurdles and preconceptions that career-minded women must overcome to penetrate the boardroom and reach the higher echelons of the corporate hierarchy are more than well documented. Combine these with the difficulties that many of us face whilst trying to raise a happy, well-balanced family and it’s easy to see that life for mothers as successful women in business is no walk in the park.
In order to not lose out on a significant proportion of talent within the labour market, women are encouraged to return to work after maternity leave, and employers are encouraged to offer them assistance. We are presented with a myriad of support options: flexible working hours, part-time working arrangements or additional days off to care for our sick children. But whilst these appear attractive and reasonable solutions on paper, they don’t sufficiently compensate woman emotionally for the impact that chasing a successful career will have on our family and home lives.
The simple fact remains that many women have no choice but to maintain an income in order for the family to remain financially sound and, while there is a need to physically bring equilibrium to their work-life balance, women must also learn to cope emotionally with the stresses and pressures that a successful and demanding career will inevitably impose on their families.
Mothers have a high propensity to feel a sense of guilt when faced with the moral dilemma of being pulled in opposing directions - career and family. Holding down a career while raising a family is without question demanding, time consuming and exhausting. The more you work yourself into the ground and suffer from the lack of sleep, poor diet and shortage of exercise, the harder it is to sustain the mechanisms you need to cope with the challenges that family life throws at you.
In many cases, a knock-on effect of this is that the inevitable energies and focus that need to be channelled into work leaves home and the family short of attention - this can have a negative influence on your children’s behaviour and your family relationships in general. Children are perceptive, often too much so for their own good, and they will notice when your defences are down and your attention is focused elsewhere. This inevitably can lead to a whole range of different family issues.
So what tools do working parents have to cope with any family issues which may arise?
While many HR departments have recognised the need to implement work-life balance solutions in line with regulations set out in the 2002 Employment Act, these tend to be focused on the physical side of parenting. For example, they ease the time-management issues which parents experience in day-to-day life, such as taking time off to go to parents' evenings, or ease the financial burden of parenting by providing reduced-fee childcare schemes. Sadly these solutions very rarely focus on the real issue facing working parents – the emotional effects.
Whilst employee engagement, health, wellbeing and motivation are just seen as buzzwords in many HR departments, there are certain employers that take the welfare of their employees very seriously.
Whilst many of these ‘forward-thinking’ organisations include the provision of business coaches within their HR module, offering guidance and a helping hand to their executives through all the important transitions and stages of their careers, rarely do employers provide the same level of support or acknowledge the emotional difficulties that parents face when returning to work after having a baby, or those who happen to be experiencing difficulties and family issues at home.
So if the employer isn’t recognising the difficulties, or addressing the problems and providing a solution, who is?
As a parenting coach, I have become increasingly involved with an expanding number of high-flying career-minded women who have realised that balancing a successful work life with a harmonious family life is posing a problem, but ultimately they can’t get their employers to acknowledge the emotional difficulties they are facing.
Put simply, I help mothers to examine their feelings as a parent in a confidential and non-judgemental way. Commonly, the problem isn't that working parents are actually working too hard, it’s simply that they feel an overwhelming sense of guilt that every minute spent in the office is having a negative effect on their family life.
Often when things aren’t going to plan as a parent, it’s very easy to focus on the negatives - what you’re not managing to achieve with your children as opposed to concentrating on the positives of what you are managing to achieve.
Changing this attitude is more often than not the most vital part of parents achieving a greater sense of clarity on what they need to do, or the change in mindset they need to experience to become better parents and handle the difficulties they are facing - and the guilt they are feeling - more effectively.
In summary, whilst employers appear to be taking the issue of employee welfare more seriously, they need to be more aware of the emotional difficulties that women returning to work after maternity leave face.
For those of us not fortunate enough to work for progressive employers that consider these factors, its worth acknowledging that while you might feel alone in your worries, there are many thousands of women who have been through the same experience and that there are solutions available to help you deal with these issues.
Are you struggling with your work-life balance? Post your story onto our Facebook page and discuss with others in your situation.
Find out more about Sue Atkins here
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Sue Atkins runs a parent coaching company, Positive Parents – Confident Kids.